INTERVIEW: Audra McDonald on her Philadelphia Concert…and Sally Bowles

Via Shutterstock.

Via Shutterstock.

Audra McDonald was in a car driving home from a rehearsal to see her family while we talked, and her voice noticeably lit up when I asked how her daughter was doing.

“She’s great,” she said. “She’s in high school now.” She added, “Family is first and foremost. It keeps you grounded.”

But family aside, the multi Tony Award-winning actress, singer, and all around glorious performer has always tried to keep it grounded: I asked her about her Philadelphia connections and was reminded that she worked at Philadelphia Theatre Company years ago during one of the first productions of the Terrence McNally play Master Class, for which she later won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.

She also helped open the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and she will be returning to the Center’s campus on Wednesday, October 7th at the Merriam Theatre for a show with Seth Rudetsky. However, it won’t be the only stage she’ll soon be hitting: McDonald is set to star in the new musical Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, which is scheduled for a 2016 Broadway bow.

“We are really excited,” she said. “It is something of a challenge to grow as an artist. I never, ever thought I’d be working with George [C. Wolfe], but now I have an opportunity to study with him. It was the main reason I said yes to this project. I wanted the opportunity to work with George. I just wanted to study with him.”

Besides her gorgeous voice and acting, McDonald has become something of a social justice advocate, actively using her Twitter account to make clear statements about LGBT youth, gay marriage, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I believe in liberty and justice for all,” she said. “I was raised to give back and take care of others. It seems like the right thing to do. I’ve got a lot of people who I admire very much in this business who came before me, social activists like Lena Horne and Ruby Dee who were out there on the front lines, marching and speaking. I see it as my job to continue that.”

She also surprised me by sharing that a role she always wanted to play when she was younger was Sally Bowles in Cabaret (and how fabulous would she be…can you please do the title song when you’re in town?), but that now, she’d love to do more Shakespeare. Her advice to any young, aspiring audience members who admire her work and want to become theater artists?

“Get on the stage anywhere. My God! Don’t be a snob,” she said. “Get on the stage as much as you possibly can. You can only read and study so much. Whether the experience is in a church basement or the YMCA, any audience is a a valuable one.”

For more information on Audra McDonald’s upcoming Philadelphia engagement, click here.